A comprehensive guide of a dissertation outline

The dissertation outline or dissertation structure plays a pivotal role in guiding the research process, ensuring organization, clarity, and coherence in the final dissertation document. It serves as a roadmap for the researcher, providing structure, focus, and direction throughout the writing process.

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Dissertation outline, dissertation structure, dissertation template

Dissertation Outline

Here is a detailed description of key information that you should include in your dissertation outline or dissertation structure:

Preliminary Pages

The first section of the dissertation outline or dissertation structure is the preliminary pages.

The preliminary pages in a dissertation include the sections that precede the main body of the document. These pages typically provide essential information about the dissertation and its context. Common preliminary pages include:

Title Page

In your dissertation structure or dissertation outline, you should include the title page.

The title page includes the title of the dissertation, the author’s name, the degree for which the dissertation is submitted, the name of the institution, and the date of submission.

Copyright Page (optional)

Provides information about the copyright status of the dissertation, including the author’s copyright statement and any copyright acknowledgments or permissions.


In the abstract of the dissertation structure or dissertation outline provides summary of the findings from the entire study.

Summarizes the key elements of the dissertation, including the research objectives, methodology, findings, and conclusions. Typically limited to a certain word count (e.g., 150-300 words).

Dedication (optional)

Allows the author to dedicate the dissertation to someone or acknowledge individuals who have provided support or inspiration during the research process.


Provides an opportunity for the author to express gratitude to individuals or organizations who have contributed to the completion of the dissertation, such as supervisors, committee members, research participants, family, or friends.

Table of Contents

Lists the chapters, sections, and subsections of the dissertation, along with their corresponding page numbers. Provides a roadmap for navigating the document.

List of Tables and Figures

Enumerates the tables and figures included in the dissertation, along with their titles and page numbers. Helps the reader locate specific data or visual aids within the document.

List of Abbreviations (optional)

Defines any abbreviations or acronyms used in the dissertation, along with their full meanings. Facilitates comprehension for readers unfamiliar with specialized terminology.

List of Symbols (optional)

Enumerates any symbols or mathematical notations used in the dissertation, along with their definitions or explanations. Enhances clarity and readability for readers.

Glossary (optional)

Provides definitions or explanations of specialized terms, concepts, or terminology relevant to the dissertation. Helps readers understand key terms used in the document.

After the preliminary pages, here are the key sections or chapters in the dissertation.

Chapter 1: Introduction

The introduction chapter should be about 10% of the total word count

This is the first chapter in your dissertation outline or dissertation structure

The first chapter in your dissertation outline or dissertation structure is the introduction.

The introduction chapter of a dissertation serves as the gateway to the entire study, providing readers with essential background information, context, and rationale for the research.

As per the dissertation outline or dissertation structure, the following sections should be included in the introduction chapter of your dissertation:

Background and Context

The background section of the dissertation outline or dissertation structure provides a brief overview of the research topic, outlining its significance and relevance within the broader field of study.

This section may include a historical perspective or a discussion of current debates, trends, or gaps in the literature that justify the need for the research.

Research Problem and Justification

The research problem section of the dissertation outline provides detailed description of the research problem or question that the study aims to address.

It explains why this problem is important, what gaps in knowledge exist, and how the proposed research will contribute to filling these gaps.

Objectives and Research Questions

The research objectives and research questions of the dissertation outline describe the specific goals of the study, along with the research questions that will guide the investigation.

These objectives and questions provide a roadmap for the research and help readers understand the focus and scope of the study.

You may find more information about research questions and objective development here.

Significance of the Study

The dissertation outline or dissertation structure should describe key significance of the study to practice.

This section highlights the potential contributions and implications of the research, both theoretically and practically.

It explains why the research is important and how it will advance knowledge, inform practice, or address real-world problems.

Scope and Limitations

In the dissertation structure or dissertation outline, the scope and limitations section clarify the boundaries and scope of the study, including what aspects of the topic will be included and excluded.

It also acknowledges any limitations or constraints that may affect the research, such as sample size, time constraints, or access to resources.

Dissertation Structure

In the dissertation outline, this section provides an overview of the dissertation’s structure, outlining the main chapters and sections that will follow.

This roadmap helps readers navigate the document and understand how the various parts of the study fit together.

Chapter 2: Literature Review

The literature review chapter should be about 30% of the total word count

In the dissertation outline, you should ensure that your literature review chapter is critically and comprehensively written to make your entire dissertation journey a success.

The literature review chapter in your dissertation outline or dissertation structure plays a critical role in shaping the entire dissertation, from conceptualization to interpretation of findings.

It serves as a foundation for the research by establishing context, identifying gaps, informing methodology, supporting argumentation, guiding analysis, and validating findings.

As such, it is an essential component of any scholarly inquiry and contributes significantly to the overall quality and rigor of the dissertation.

When writing your dissertation structure or dissertation outline, make it is recommendable to create subsections of your literature review chapter of the dissertation based on the research questions that you had developed.

This approach will help making your dissertation writing more specific to the research problem you are focusing to address.

Here are the key sections that you should include in the literature review chapter of your dissertation:

Introduction to the Literature Review

  • Provide an overview of the purpose and scope of the literature review.
  • Explain why the topic is important and relevant to the field of study.
  • State the objectives of the literature review and outline the structure of the chapter.

Theoretical Framework

  • Present the theoretical frameworks or conceptual models that underpin your research.
  • Explain key concepts, theories, or models relevant to your topic.
  • Discuss how these theories inform your research questions and hypotheses.

Review of Relevant Literature

  • Synthesize and summarize existing research studies, scholarly articles, and other relevant sources.
  • Organize the literature thematically or chronologically, depending on your research approach or the research questions.
  • Identify key themes, trends, and debates in the literature.
  • Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of previous studies.
  • Discuss inconsistencies, contradictions, or gaps in the literature.
  • Identify areas where further research is needed and justify the relevance of your study.

Conceptual Framework

  • Develop a conceptual framework or model based on the synthesis of the literature.
  • Illustrate how different concepts or variables are related to each other.
  • Provide a visual representation of your theoretical framework, if applicable.

Gaps in Literature

  • Clearly articulate specific gaps or limitations in the existing literature related to your research topic.
  • This could include unanswered research questions, overlooked perspectives, or underexplored areas of inquiry.
  • Provides rationale for why these gaps are significant and warrant further investigation.
  • Explain how addressing these gaps will contribute to advancing knowledge in the field or addressing practical problems.
  • Outlines how filling these gaps may lead to new insights, interventions, or recommendations in the field.

Chapter Summary

  • Summarizes the key findings and insights from the literature review.
  • Reiterates the significance of your research topic and its contribution to the field.
  • Highlights the gaps or limitations in the existing literature that your study will address.
  • Provides a transition to the next chapter of your dissertation.

Chapter 3: Research Methods or Methodology

The research methods or methodology should be about 15% of the total word count.

In the dissertation outline or dissertation structure, the research methods or methodology chapter of your dissertation provides a detailed account of how the study was conducted, justifying methodological choices, ensuring ethical integrity, and assessing the validity and reliability of the findings.

It serves as a foundation for the entire dissertation, establishing the methodological framework upon which the research is built.

Here’s a detailed description of the key sections typically included in the research methods/methodology chapter of a dissertation:

Introduction to the Research Methods

  • Provide an overview of the research methods/methodology chapter.
  • Briefly outline the purpose and objectives of the chapter.
  • Explain the significance of the chosen research methods/methodology for addressing the research questions.

Research Philosophy

  • Provide an overview of the Research Philosophy section.
  • Explain the significance of research philosophy in shaping the research design and methodology.
  • Discuss the different approaches to research philosophy, including positivism, interpretivism, and critical realism.
  • Discuss the epistemological assumptions underlying the research, focusing on questions of knowledge, truth, and validity.
  • Justify the choice of research philosophy based on the nature of the research questions, objectives, and context.

Research Design

  • Describe the overall research design employed in the study (e.g., quantitative, qualitative, mixed methods).
  • Justify the choice of research design based on the nature of the research questions, the scope of the study, and the epistemological and ontological assumptions guiding the research.

Research Approach

  • Discuss the specific research approach(es) used in the study (e.g., experimental, descriptive, exploratory).
  • Explain how the chosen research approach(es) align with the research objectives and contribute to generating valid and reliable findings.

Data Collection Methods

  • Detail the methods used to collect data for the study (e.g., surveys, interviews, observations, document analysis).
  • Provide rationale for the selection of each data collection method, considering factors such as feasibility, appropriateness, and ethical considerations.

Sampling Strategy

  • Describe the sampling strategy employed to select participants or sources of data for the study.
  • Discuss the criteria used to determine the sample size, sampling technique (e.g., random sampling, purposive sampling), and sampling frame.

Data Analysis Techniques

  • Outline the techniques used to analyze the collected data (e.g., statistical analysis, thematic analysis, content analysis).
  • Justify the choice of data analysis techniques based on the research questions, data type, and research approach.

Research Validity and Reliability

  • Discuss measures taken to ensure the validity and reliability of the research findings.
  • Address potential threats to validity and reliability and explain how these were minimized or mitigated.

Ethical Considerations

  • Describe the ethical considerations associated with the research, including informed consent, confidentiality, and protection of participants’ rights.
  • Explain how ethical guidelines and regulations were adhered to throughout the research process.

Methodological Limitations

  • Acknowledge any limitations or constraints associated with the chosen research methods/methodology.
  • Discuss how these limitations may have impacted the validity, reliability, or generalizability of the findings.

Chapter Summary

  • Summarize the key points discussed in the research methods/methodology chapter.
  • Reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the chosen research methods/methodology and their implications for the study.

Chapter 4: Results or Findings

The results or findings chapter should be about 10% of the total word count

The fourth chapter is a standard dissertation outline or dissertation structure is the results or findings.

The findings or results chapter serves to communicate the outcomes of the research study, analyze and interpret the empirical data, validate research hypotheses or propositions, provide descriptive and explanatory information, and illustrate key findings with visual aids.

The results or findings chapter a critical component of the dissertation that demonstrates the rigor, validity, and significance of the research findings.

The key sections of the results or findings chapter of a dissertation typically include:

Introduction to the Findings

  • Provide an overview of the chapter and its purpose.
  • Briefly recap the research objectives or questions addressed in the study.
  • Outline the structure of the chapter to guide the reader through the presentation of findings.

Descriptive Statistics or Data Description

  • Present descriptive statistics or summarize the data collected in the study.
  • Provide details on participant demographics, sample characteristics, and other relevant descriptive information.
  • Use tables, charts, or graphs to visually represent the data, if appropriate.

Analysis of Quantitative Data (for quantitative research)

  • Analyze the quantitative data collected in the study using appropriate statistical techniques.
  • Present the results of statistical analyses, such as inferential tests, correlations, or regression analyses.
  • Interpret the findings and discuss their significance in relation to the research questions or hypotheses.

Themes or Patterns in Qualitative Data (For qualitative research)

  • Identify and discuss key themes, patterns, or categories that emerged from the qualitative data analysis.
  • Present excerpts or quotes from the data to support each identified theme.
  • Discuss the implications of the themes for the research questions and theoretical framework.

Integration of Quantitative and Qualitative Findings

  • Compare and contrast the findings from quantitative and qualitative data analyses.
  • Identify areas of convergence or divergence between the two data sources.
  • Discuss how the integration of findings enhances the depth and richness of the overall results.

Chapter Summary

  • Summarize the main findings of the study and their significance.
  • Revisit the research objectives or questions and assess the extent to which they have been addressed.
  • Highlight the contributions of the study to the field and suggest directions for future research.

Chapter 5: Discussion

The discussion chapter of the dissertation should be about 25% of the total word count.

In your dissertation writing, you should use the discussion chapter to critically analyze and interpret the research findings in relation to the research objectives, theoretical framework, and existing literature.

You can organize your discussion chapter according to the research objectives.

Here are the key purposes of the discussion chapter:

Interpretation of Findings: The discussion chapter provides a platform for interpreting the research findings in light of the study’s objectives. It involves examining the meaning and significance of the findings, identifying patterns or themes, and exploring their implications for the research questions.

Comparison with Existing Literature: The discussion chapter compares the research findings with existing literature, theories, and empirical studies in the field. It evaluates the consistency or divergence between the current study’s results and previous research, highlighting areas of agreement or disagreement.

Explanation of Unexpected Findings: The discussion chapter addresses any unexpected or contradictory findings that emerged during the research process. It explores possible explanations for these findings, considering factors such as methodological limitations, sample characteristics, or contextual influences.

Chapter 6: Conclusion and Recommendations

The conclusion and recommendation chapter should be about 10% of the total word count.

The last chapter in your dissertation outline or dissertation template is conclusion and recommendations.

The primary purpose of the conclusion and recommendation is to provide answers to the research questions.

Here are the key sections in conclusion and recommendation chapter:


Provides a concise summary of the main findings and key points discussed in the dissertation.

Provides answers to the research questions.

It recaps the research objectives, methodology, and major findings to remind the reader of the study’s main contributions.

Recommendations or Implications for Practice and Policy

  • Discuss the practical implications of the research findings for practitioners, policymakers, or other stakeholders.
  • Consider how the findings can inform decision-making, program development, or policy initiatives in the field.
  • Highlight the potential impact of the research on improving practice or addressing real-world problems.

Recommendations or Suggestions for Future Research

  • Identify opportunities for future research based on the limitations or unanswered questions raised by the current study.
  • Propose potential research questions, methodologies, or areas of inquiry for future investigation.
  • Discuss how future research could build upon the findings of the current study and further advance knowledge in the field.

Sections after the actual body of the dissertation include:


  • Alphabetical list of all sources cited in the dissertation
  • Criteria for the adopted citation style should be applied (APA, Harvard, MLA, Chicago, etc.)

Appendices (if necessary)

  • Your appendices section of the dissertation may include the following information:
  • Consent Forms
  • Additional Data: Questionnaires, Supplementary Tables/Charts/Graphics
  • Other Relevant Documents
  • Interactive Elements & Educational Tools (for digital or interactive dissertations)
  • Interactive Charts/Graphics/Data Visualizations where readers can engage with data findings.
  • Embedded Media (if applicable) – such as video or audio segments pertinent to your research.
  • Hyperlinked Sections – allowing easy navigation throughout the dissertation for various chapters and references.
  • Glossary – Interactive glossary linked within the text for technical terms or jargon.
  • Annotation Tools – Enabling readers to make notes on certain sections or highlight important points.
  • Supplementary Educational Content – such as slide decks or infographics summarizing each chapter for educational purposes.

*Note: The above structure provides a base template; your specific dissertation might require adapting or adding sections based on your discipline and university guidelines. *

Dr. Robertson Prime, Research Fellow
Dr. Robertson Prime, Research Fellow